SMC Veterans in Remembrance

To pay homage to the United States' brave men and women on the 90th anniversary of Veterans Day, the Santa Monica College Student Veterans Association held an open assembly at the campus clock tower. Student veterans felt obligated to put together a last minute event so they could share their triumphs and tribulations they had overseas and at home, as well to answer questions anyone had about military service.

Before the speakers began they asked that the audience rise with them for the U.S. National Anthem. Iraqi War veteran, and SMC student Cameron Henton followed the anthem by speaking about the meaning of Veterans Day, "today is a day for us to remember all our family members and friends who are veterans. It is a day for veterans to reflect on their stories of courage and sacrifice," Henton said. "It is also a day for us to remember our brothers and sisters who are not here today."

The veterans invited SMC faculty member Daniel Cano to share his, much different, perspective on Veteran's Day. "I don't know if Veterans Day is really a day of celebration because I don't see a lot of celebrations around the country," Cano remarked. "In fact I see probably bigger celebrations on St. Patrick's Day," he added jokingly.

Cano, a Vietnam veteran, came home to a much different America than the one we have now. "I flew into Seattle, on a cold October day, after spending a year in combat. I was shuffled off the airplane, given a meal, a new coat and a ticket to Los Angeles," Cano said. "When I landed in L.A., alone, on Oct. 25, there were no celebrations. There was nobody there to welcome us home."

Following Cano were a few SMC students who recently enlisted in the military and wanted to share their reasons for doing so. Tova Samson, a female student, will enter basic training in February. She enlisted because, while abroad, she was involved in a terrorist attack with a friend. "[My friend] did not make it, but I did. This motivated me to go and put an end to what is going on with terrorism, so no one will have to face what I did, ever again," Samson said with great emphasis.

The speeches weren't all full of valor, victory and vigilance. Some of the stories were quite tragic. SMC student and Iraqi War veteran Carlos Alvarez suffered a string of attacks while overseas in Iraq. Alvarez has been in-and-out of hospitals for nearly three years straight to treat the brain trauma he received during combat.

"I'm still taking a lot of therapy to improve my memory. It's been a very harsh thing to go through. Having been at school has given me a new sense in life," Alvarez said.

To close the speaking engagement, the associations president, Francisco Cortez and fellow members and veterans Henton, Miguel Ferrer and Melissa Hendrickson, who were all dressed in their complete army uniforms, addressed questions asked by the audience.

The first question asked was if the veterans are at all concerned about the new President Elect Barack Obama. "I believe that Mr. Barack Obama will lead us away from this war and focus our energies on much more important things," Cortez said. "I really hope my children never have to go to war."

An audience member posed a particularly difficult question to the veteran's by asking their opinions on homosexuals in the military. "I don't think the military's ready. Do I think they should serve alongside our brave men and women? Yes," Cortez said with conviction. "I believe they are ordinary people, they can do it, but the military's not ready. I'm looking forward to the day when the military is equal."

The panel also shared their touching stories of returning to their native soil. "I was coming in [to San Diego]. I was standing on the ship, and just seeing the signs that said welcome home, brought tears to my eyes," Ferrer said with a twinkle in his eye. "Seeing people's faces, the cheers, the banners, that was the most important, special day in my life."

Cortez brought the speaking engagement to a close by thanking the crowd for giving their time on Veterans Day. "It takes two people to make this happen. I could tell you about myself all day, but if you're not listening, it's kind of a lost cause. To see the interest that you guys have, even if it was just one person, it would mean the world. Seeing how there is more than one person here... it makes it a lot better."